Farmers do have rights, and one of those is the right to farm.
Four individual courts cases, all against Maxwell Farms hog operations in Indiana, were seeking damages from farms for creating a nuisance in regards to odor, manure management practices and location of farms. Delaware County Circuit Judge Marianne Vorhees, acting as a special judge for the Randolph Circuit Court, ruled July 10 in favor of Maxwell Farms in each of the four cases.
What stood tall through these four cases is the constitutionality of the Right to Farm law in Indiana, and elsewhere, says Gary H. Baise, attorney with Washington, D.C.-based law firm of Olsson, Frank and Weeda.
“What this shows is that farmers can win these cases” Baise says. “Producers need to know that Right to Farms laws are in every state, and the statutes are there to protect you. You can fight these, but you need to find a lawyer who knows how to use it on your behalf. … One victory is important, but four is astounding as we did in this case.”
Maxwell Farms operates three 4,800-sow operations (farrow-to-wean) in Randolph County, which is located on the eastern edge of Indiana between Muncie, IN, and Ohio. Joe Baldwin, Maxwell Farms of Indiana operations manager, says there are also three corresponding nurseries in the county. One sow farm and one nursery were two of the subjects of the lawsuits.
Baldwin says Maxwell also has about 250,000 finishing spaces in a six-county area, and a quarter of those are in Randolph County, all of which are located on family owned contract farms. Two of these farms were also involved in the lawsuits.
Right to Farm laws, according to the National Agricultural Law Center, are found in every state and are on the books to protect “farmers and ranchers from nuisance lawsuits filed by individuals who move into a rural area where normal farming operations exist, and who later use nuisance actions to attempt to stop those ongoing operations.”
Baldwin says Maxwell Farms takes great pride in its operations. “We have quite an extensive siting process, and actually every one of our sites exceeds the county zoning regulations that were put in to place after we built most of the farms. We pay close attention to where we site our facility and we maintain them quite well.”
Each state’s Right to Farm statutes vary, and Baise says producers need to be good neighbors and could lose a case if negligence in their operation can be proven.
“State legislatures have done their job saying that agriculture is important and it must be protected,” Baise says of the establishment of the Right to Farm laws nationwide. Baise encourages producers to keep the Right to Farm in mind if they are ever faced with such a lawsuit. “I’ve seen farmers walk away, thinking they can’t win. But this proves that you can win.”
On a related note, Missouri voters will decide on Aug. 5 if they wish to have Amendment 1, also known as the right to farm, added to that state’s constitution. The amendment reads: “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure that the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed?” Constituents will be asked to vote yes or no to the amendment.
According to an Associated Press article, the plaintiffs are planning appeals in the Maxwell Indiana cases.